New restaurants are the norm in the city, but we've found a few great ones we think you'll quite enjoy. This fall, head to these hot newcomers to mix up your restaurant routine or to treat yourself to a night out. Whether you're looking for a new take on Southern food, a gorgeous ambiance and delectable oysters or a hearty pie, Chicago's got some great places to satisfy your appetite.
Blue Door Kitchen & Garden. When chef Art Smith's Table Fifty-Two closed, people mourned the fried chicken. Well, lift your black veil, because the breaded birds are back at Blue Door Kitchen & Garden—in in the former Table Fifty-Two space—along with a few of Smith's other beloved Southern dishes and a new menu driven by a farm-to-table philosophy. Daily deviled eggs come with farm-fresh topping, while purple potato gnocchi comes with carrots and peas, making a bright dish with a flavor that recalls a light fried dough. Ask about any of the ingredients and all the servers are quick to tell you their origins, even when it comes to the hard stuff, like seafood (flown in every day).
Dixie. "In the South we enter through the side" is the sign you'll be greeted with if you try to enter in through the front door of Dixie, a Southern-inspired restaurant by Charlie McKenna. As someone from East Tennessee, I had to think about it—I enter my parents' house through the side door—and actually most houses that I could remember throughout my youth—coming to the quick conclusion that maybe this was indeed a "Southern thing." Regardless, you enter into a slate blue haven with white marble detailing, with Southern memorabilia (think sheet music of "Carry Me Back to My Carolina Home") on the walls. One typical Southern restaurant feature you won't see is large plates—instead, most of the menu is made up of smaller portions made for sharing, like the sweet corn custard topped with andouille and crawfish. After dinner, head to the small bar (or liquorette as it's dubbed), 1952 1/2, for a drink to cap off the night.
Giant. A framed print of Shel Silverstein’s poem Me and My Giant hangs on the wall of this ironically named restaurant—it’s tiny, sitting only 44 people. But what Giant lacks in space it makes up for in flavor. The menu is filled with shared plates, each inflected with its own garnish and flair. Peppers are abundant, starting with sweet biscuits with a sugary crust and a jalapeño honey. Pasta is the other star—our favorite is the sortallini, a bit like tortellini, served in a refreshingly acidic and bright sauce that’s packed with guanciale, basil and pine nuts. For dessert, you have to order the cajeta ice cream, covered with a butter pecan crunch, and served with freeze dried strawberries and goat’s milk caramel—it tastes just like a grown up version of a strawberry shortcake ice cream bar.
Honey's. Honey's is gorgeous. It contains two rooms, the first boasting a white marble bar with a mirrored back bar lined with stools, and a smattering of two-tops and bench seating. But look up because the skylight is the star; Honey's sits on a West Loop block without tall buildings, so the overhead window fills the space with sunshine. The service is as cheerful as the room, with helpful staff keeping you well liquored and fed. For food, order an onslaught of appetizers and dishes from the cold bar (we're still dreaming about the oysters—briny, with garlic and bright lemon). Pair yours with a glass of wine from the solid list and you may want to move in.
Leña Brava. The newest member of Rick Bayless's family of restaurants boasts a menu based around ice and fire in a mid-to-upscale setting with plenty of tables. The ice portion of the menu is filled with cold and raw dishes like aguachiles and ceviches. You're better off picking one of the two options, as they are a tad on the acidic side, then pair with salads, cócteles and oysters with reckless abandon. We're fans of the verde ceviche, with baja hiramasa yellowtail, green chile adobo, daikon radish, cucumber, shaved fennel, grilled garlic chives and avocado. On the fire side, try the braised shortrib with Oaxacan pasilla salsa, set pleasingly on top of creamy cauliflower mash. Between the bite of the ice plates and the warm smoke of the fire dishes, your taste buds will be delighted.
Pleasant House Pub. Chicago's resident royal pie baker has made some big changes this past year; condensing the Chicago location and its Three Oaks, Michigan, shop into the former Nightwood space to create an all-day pub. Since it's open from morning to evening, you'll find people hunched over their computers with a pastry at their side and couples on coffee dates chatting over snacks. In the evenings, the menu switches to a full-service dinner. Start with the pickles, a tiny jar filled with tangy beets, carrots and gherkins, then pick any pie with a side of the salty, crunchy bubble and squeak, an English dish with fried veggies. You can't go wrong with the savory steak-and-ale pie and the creamy, veggie-friendly kale-and-mushroom number. End with the seasonal fruit trifle: a sweet, boozy cake with whipped cream, fruit and custard.
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